A new high-speed catamaran, just leased for $21.7 million, is helping the U.S.
Navy decide what technologies will be most useful in coastal warfare.
The Navy is seeking to develop a new class of littoral combat ships, which
will feature an advanced hull form and a shallow draft, and be able to move
through coastal waters at speeds of 40 to 50 knots. In May, the service awarded
contracts to two firms—$45.5 million to Lockheed Martin's Naval Electronics
& Surveillance Systems of Moorestown, N.J., and $78.8 million to General
Dynamics' Bath Iron Works, of Bath, Maine—to do final designs.
Lockheed Martin's design is expected to be completed by December of this year,
and General Dynamics' work is to be done by September 2005. The contracts include
options for construction of up to two prototype ships.
The high-speed catamaran is serving as a test platform for technologies in
mine warfare and expeditionary operations that the Navy would like to transition
The service’s latest catamaran—called the High Speed Vessel 2 Swift—is
a converted car ferry. It is 321 feet long, with a top speed of about 45 knots.
The Swift’s aluminum hull draws only about 11.5 feet of water. This enables
her to operate in shallow coastal waters, without the need for major harbors
with deepwater berths, said the ship’s experimentation director, Lt. Cmdr.
The Swift was leased in August from Bollinger/Incat USA, of Lockport, La. It
is the latest of several Australian catamarans to be put to use by U.S. military
services. After watching an Australian Navy catamaran move troops and supplies
to and from East Timor, the U.S. Marines in 2001 leased the WestPac Express
from Austal Ships Pty.—an Australian rival of Incat—for use in the
Western Pacific Ocean.
Also in 2001, the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard leased the HSV-X1 Joint
Venture from Bollinger/Incat for a year, with the possibility of another year’s
The Army, looking for a platform that could move more troops and equipment,
renewed the lease for the Joint Venture.
During the early days of the conflict with Iraq, the Joint Venture served as
a forward staging platform for Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism and Navy SEAL (Sea,
Air and Land) units operating in the shallow waters off the port city of Um
Qasr. In April of this year, Army aviators off the coast of Korea experimented
with landing two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters on its flight deck.
In 2002, the Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command ordered a second
catamaran from Bollinger/Incat. The ship has been dubbed Theater Support Vessel
Spearhead-X1. In 2003, the command decided to buy, rather than lease, several
additional catamarans over the next few years. The catamarans would be built
in the United States. The Army is preparing to award the first contract in 2005.
The Navy plans to explore the Swift’s ability to perform two primary
missions—mine warfare command and support, and expeditionary operations,
The Swift, additionally, is serving with the Navy’s Mine Warfare Command,
headquartered at Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, as the interim replacement
for the Navy’s only mine countermeasures command and control ship, the
USS Inchon, which retired in 2002.
It also is operating out of Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., in a series
of expeditionary warfare experiments and exercises.
Two separate, 40-person crews operate the ship. A Gold Crew, based in Little
Creek, concentrates on expeditionary missions, and a Blue Crew, in Ingleside,
focuses on mine warfare. Both crews are made up entirely of volunteers, said
the ship’s highest-ranking enlisted man, Senior Chief Petty Officer Lawrence
Naumann. “A man waits his whole life for a ship like this,” he said.
“Twenty seven of us served on the Joint Venture during the [Iraq] war.”
The ship’s experimental missions are accommodated, in large part, by
its original design as a car ferry, with vast amounts of open space beneath
her decks. She has a mission bay with 15,500 square feet of vehicle and module
space, a vehicle ramp sturdy enough to accommodate M1A1 Abrams tanks, a crane
that can launch and recover small boats and a 4,000-square-foot flight deck,
with an adjacent hanger for two Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters.
A reconfigurable passenger compartment can seat up to 250 combat-equipped Marines
in airline-style seats and provide 103 permanent sleeping berths.
The Swift has been equipped with a communications suite and the Lockheed Martin
Integrated Combat Weapons System to perform command-and-control functions.
During a recent visit to Alexandria, Va., the Swift hosted a Knighthawk, the
Navy’s newest combat search and rescue and naval special warfare helicopter.
The MH-60S Knighthawk is testing new anti-mine sensors, said a pilot, Lt. Walt
Sitting in the Swift’s hangar was a Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing
tactical unmanned air vehicle. Shipboard landing tests were scheduled to take
place in the Chesapeake Bay in mid-June.
After Ingleside’s Blue Crew took possession of the vessel, she sped across
the Indian Ocean to Bahrain, headquarters for the Navy’s 5th Fleet. There,
Little Creek’s Gold Crew took over.
After crew certification by the Afloat Training Group in Bahrain, the ship
set sail to join the West African Training Cruise 2004. During the cruise, the
Swift worked with U.S. Marines and military personnel from seven West African
nations, practicing coastal, and riverine and small boat operations.
Following completion of the West African cruise, the Swift delivered trucks,
cranes, ambulances and construction equipment to U.S. military personnel conducting
a humanitarian mission in Puerto Cortez, Honduras.
The Swift is able to cover vast distances of ocean quickly because of her so-called
“wave-piercing” catamaran design, Incat officials said. Catamarans—twin-hulled
vessels—have sailed the Indian Ocean for centuries. Incat updated the
catamaran concept by using aluminum in its ship construction and powering the
ships with four sets of marine diesel engines, gas turbines and water jets capable
of throwing out 18 tons of water per second.
The Swift has an operating range of 1,100 nautical miles at an average speed
of 35 knots and 4,000 nautical miles at 20 knots.
When the Navy agreed to lease the Swift, she was only 35 percent complete,
Berthelotte said. This permitted the Navy to play a larger role in her design.
The Navy requested four ovens and automatic dishwashers, explained galley captain
Petty Officer 1st Class Bogan Burnett.
The Swift also has more weapons than its predecessors. It has a stabilized
gun mount, the Mk 96 Mod 0, which is a two-axis weapon system that provides
25 mm chain-gun and 40 mm grenade machine-gun firepower. The vessel also carries
the Mk 45 Mod O weapon mount, made by United Defense. The Mk 45 can accommodate
both machine guns and grenade launchers.
The Swift was headed for NATO exercises off Norway, before returning to Little